Your Immune System
The immune system is made up of a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body. It is a highly evolved series of defences designed to protect us against many of the diseases and regular assaults such as invading organisms, toxins and mutated cells (cancer cells). It is an incredibly complex body system and must constantly be on the lookout for invaders.
Inflammation is a natural and very important part of the immune response. It occurs when pro-inflammatory hormones signal to the immune system to send large numbers of white blood cells to a particular area of the body where damage has occurred (e.g. a cut or an infected area of the body), damaged tissue needs removing or infection may need clearing. This should be a short-lived acute response.
However, inflammation can become chronic and widespread when there are persistent signals from areas of the body where damage is occurring or unwelcome microbes are present. Unfortunately, inflammation can actually cause more harm than good if it becomes chronic leading to a number of disorders.
Factors which May Contribute to Immune Dysregulation
● Overweight and obesity
● Lack of immune-supportive nutrients and foods – poor diet
● Chronic stress
● Long term use of some pharmaceutical medications
● Poor digestion and absorption of nutrients
● Leaky Gut
● Chronic infection
● Unidentified or unmanaged allergies or food intolerances
Our digestive system is linked to our immune system in the fact that 60-80% of the immune system is in our gut. If our digestion isn’t strong, our immune system won’t be either. When our digestion is under par or when we are taking medications such as Non-Steroid Anti Inflammatories (NSAIDs), like Neurofen on a constant basis, our gut lining can get compromised and ‘leaky gut’ may possibly occur.
Leaky gut is when the gut lining has become weakened and bacteria, undigested foods or proteins, can get through the lining into the bloodstream. When these things are in the bloodstream, they are not recognised by the immune cells which mount an immune response, this can be in the form of :
- food reactions/intolerances – gluten, dairy especially
- inflammation in the skin – rashes
- joint pain
- poor sleep
- sinus problems
- mood swings
- weight gain
- autoimmune conditions
Dr. Alessio Fessano, co-director of the Harvard Medical School Celiac Research Program says ‘some research suggests leaky gut is linked with a higher risk of autoimmune diseases (such as coeliac, lupus and multiple sclerosis) or chronic fatigue syndrome’. It is unclear whether these symptoms are the cause or are caused by leaky gut.
Suggestions for Immune System Support
Foods to Include:
● 3 portions of oily fish (mackerel, salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies) per week. They contain omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA , also zinc which may help to regulate the immune system by calming inflammation.
● 1-2 portions (handful) of nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews and Brazil nuts) or seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, flax seed) per day. They contain antioxidant vitamins and minerals including vitamin A and E, selenium and zinc, which play a key role in regulating the immune system.
● 6-8 portions of highly coloured fruit and vegetables per day. They contain antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and phytonutrients which may help to support the immune system. Examples include dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, carrots, sweet potato, berries, and beetroot. Juice, roast, grate, saute, steam but try not to boil as the nutrients will be lost into the water unless it’s soup or stew.
● Herbs and spices – particularly ginger, garlic, green tea, turmeric, echinacea, rosemary, oregano. They contain phytochemicals which have a strong regulatory impact on the immune system.
Garlic I find is the most amazing immune support, it has many antibacterial qualities. I got this tip from Alys Fowler who was on a visit here a few years back, and I’ve been doing it ever since it’s fermented garlic cloves in raw honey. Very simply, peel and slice raw organic garlic cloves and add them to jar with a lid, add a few tablespoons of raw or good quality manuka honey. Seal the jar and leave in a dark cupboard to do its magic. You may notice the honey becomes runnier, this is part of the fermentation. I top up the pot every few months, after a few weeks there is plenty of magical goodness ready to give you a boost.
After a few weeks, if a throat tickle comes around, I dare you to take a teaspoon, it’s strong stuff but wow! you feel the benefit.
● Probiotic foods. Help to innoculate the gut with helpful bacteria. Found in live yoghurt and unpasteurised fermented foods such as tamari, tofu, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut and kimchi, unpasteurised cheese, apple cider vinegar. Try fermenting vegetables if you have a glut of them in the summer, steep cleaned sliced cucumbers (which we always have way too many of ) in sterilised jars with a saltwater brine, seal and eat while still crunchy through the autumn and winter months. Ensure they are always submerged in the brine. These will give probiotic benefits and they are super tasty. There are millions of pages on the web about fermenting, it is very simple to do.
Prebiotic foods – These feed the helpful bacteria that are present in the gut.
- Onions – Red especially contain quercetin which is helpful for immune health.
- Coconut Meat & Flour
- Flax and Chia Seeds
- Green Bananas
- Chicory Root
- Dandelion Greens
- Jerusalem Artichoke
Things to Do :
● Move – Exercise – when possible 15-30mins fast walk every day, if sitting down all day, get up and walk around every 45mins, go up and down the stairs a few times if there are any nearby. While cooking dinner, do some squats or lunges. When bending down, bend your knees not your back, this helps your leg muscles and joints strengthen rather than putting your back under strain.
● Lower Stress – this is a big one. Stress lowers the immune system by raising the stress hormone, cortisol. Research has found breath work actually lowers cortisol, trying some of the following activities may help, YOGA, Breathwork, walks, Meditation, Singing, hobbies, friendship, community groups. You do not have to be super fit to do Yoga, it’s a combination of breathing, stretching and steadiness that brings about a sense of calm while strengthening muscles without too much exertion.
● Gardening – if you have one – lowers stress, makes you move different muscles every time and is very satisfying
● Lower Sugar intake – sugar feeds the harmful bacteria of the gut and reduces the diversity of the microflora. Artificial sugars/sweeteners should be avoided as these definitely have a negative effect on the immune system and the gut flora.
● Lower Alcohol – daily moderate to heavy drinking can alter the microbiome and can also reduce our immune defender white blood cells.
Take Vitamin D – It seems it is quite easy to become deficient in the Northern climbs, studies have found supplementing with D3 is important for immune health amongst many other things like bone health, mood and energy.
Recipe Miso Mushrooms
Miso Butter Mushrooms serves 2-3 mushrooms per person so double up if more people.
3 tbsp coconut oil or ghee or olive oil or butter
1 tbsp sweet white miso paste (available in good supermarkets or delicatessen)
3 garlic cloves crushed
4-6 Portobello Mushrooms
Mix the coconut oil or ghee or butter or olive oil with the garlic and miso paste. Spread the miso butter around the centre of the mushrooms, grill the mushrooms under a hot grill for about 8mins. Serve along with, Courgetti, (grated or spiralised courgette) raw or lightly sauteed with garlic and lemon juice, big green salad with lots of colour, peppers, grated carrot, tomatoes, cucumber with a dressing of olive oil and cider vinegar.